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How to Record: Basic Studio Monitoring (Lesson 12)

Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well, and today, we’re going to do lesson 12 in the How to Record series.

This is just the basic monitoring lesson. So we’re going to talk about unpowered monitors, powered monitors, and headphones. The way you’re going to listen to music. As ever, please go to, and subscribe to the email list, and you’ll get a bunch of free stuff to download, you’ll get access to some videos on Vimeo, and you can interact with us on email through that, and of course, subscribe down below and leave some comments. I love hearing your ideas, and please tell us what you use for monitoring.

What kind of headphones you use, what kind of monitors you use, what kind of powered monitors, what power amps, whatever it is you use.

Okay, so let’s get started. Now, there are two basic ways that I monitor through speakers, and of course, the first one is an unpowered monitor, which actually was more common for years when I grew up. Now I think powered monitors are starting to gain a little bit more momentum, because it’s just one unit, but the traditional way that we used to always listen when I was a kid was using a power amp and speakers, and that, for us, through sort of the 80’s and 90’s and the early 2000s was always done with — in studios was done with Yamaha NS10s. So here are my Yamaha NS10s, complete with toys and a broken spitfire.

They’re basically a woofer, a main driver here, and then this smaller driver here is a tweeter. The thing about these speakers, frankly, is they are pretty obnoxious. They have a really, really hyped mid-range. I think I’m not looking at the EQ curve at the moment, but off the top of my head, there’s up to a 7dB lift around about 1.5kHz. So the mid-range is really, really hyped.

Now, that isn’t all that pleasing for just sitting here and listening to music as a reference, but what I like about them and what most people like about them is they’re great for mixing guitars and snare drums, and you know, when rock and roll was dominated by guitars and drums, before EDM, etcetera, and R&B and all of this stuff took off, it was a great way to mix guitars. When guitars sound obnoxious and offensive, and snare drums are just cracking like crazy on NS10s, then your mix is good.

So I still use them to reference, but you have to power them. They’re not powered speakers. Yamaha does make a powered speaker now that is essentially an NS10. It doesn’t sound exactly like them. If you watch the Kenny Aronoff studio video, you’ll see he uses the powered versions of them. They have a better bottom end response than these do. That was the only real failing I think for the NS10s is to mix on them like Chris does — Chris Lord-Alge does, he uses a sub.

I have a sub on these as well, however, when I reference them, I don’t use the sub, I just use the NS10s on their own, because I’m not using them to mix through, predominately, I’m using them to reference and make sure the guitars and the snare drums are sounding the way I want them to sound. You will need to use a power amp. With these particular ones, we have a Bryston power amp that we use to power them.

Okay, next, I have some Genelecs here. So these big bad boys here are Genelec 1032s. I like these for a number of reasons. When I first moved to Los Angeles in the mid to late 90’s, as a musician, I came over here, every studio I worked in, and still to a certain extent, had this combination.

So they had the powered Genelecs, and then the NS10 being driven usually by a Bryston power amp, and the reason why they had them was — they’re actually quite different sounding speakers. Neither are perfectly flat, but both serve different purposes. These have a much better bottom end response, and a smoother top end and mid-range. They’re not quite as aggressive in the mid-range, they’re not quite as aggressive in the mid-range, so they work really nicely off each other.

I tend to find, like most people, the NS10s are a little fatiguing to listen to for long periods of time, but the Genelecs I can listen to for a lot, because they’re not as hyped in the high mids, or the mid-range, I should say.

So the thing about this is this is a powered speaker. Now, whether you buy Genelecs, which are relatively inexpensive, or you buy some cheaper powered speakers, the great thing about it is you can just plug into your DAW, you know, out of your interface, two cables, just plug into the back of these and they’re ready to go.

The 1032s are my favorite speaker to mix on. They’re not flat. Everybody is going to have a different opinion, but I know how they sound. The most important thing really for any of us — it doesn’t matter whether you’re the most famous mixer in the world or an up and coming guy — is just the ability to understand your speakers in the room you’re at.

There’s no general consensus. I know everybody is going to have a different opinion on the best speaker. The best speaker is the speaker that you know whether it be powered or unpowered, and the room that you know. Obviously, it’s very difficult to mix on tiny little speakers and hear the bottom end, and then on the reverse, you know, mixing on something that has a huge amount of bottom end and no top end detail, but those are the exaggerated things. I have friends that mix on Alesis powered speakers, which are relatively inexpensive and you can get from Guitar Center.

They have a little bit of sort of a fake bottom end to them, but I know guys that mix really, really good stuff on them, because they know the speakers and they know their room. It’s all about translating, and for me, when I first started mixing in here, I got thrown into the deep end. The first thing I mixed on this SSL, in here, real thing I mixed with these speakers was the Aerosmith album. The last Aerosmith record in 2011, so I mixed an Aerosmith album on this console with these speakers, and I just — we had been mixing in other environments, and I came here to mix it, and I was getting good results, but I was taking my mixes and going out into my car and listening to the mixes from a CD in my car to get more perspective.

Then of course, you know, Steven Tyler, and Joe Perry were taking those mixes home and listening in their environment of their laptops, and I was getting comments back from Steven and Joe. That is how I learnt my room. I learnt my room the hard way by just trying different things, and also, I have a Bose air radio here. I forgot what it was called, the Bose radio anyway, the thing about this Bose radio is it’s the closest thing I’ve got to listening to the way that the consumer might listen to it.

You know, it’s a combination of listening in different environments. I don’t listen as much on this or in my car as I used to, because I’ve been mixing here now for four or five years, but if I was, you know, in the early days of getting to use my room, I would always reference on this. I would always go to my car.

Now I am very, very familiar with my room, but I do think that having different environments to listen to is really, really important. Having said that, if you onl have a pair of, say, Alesis or Mackie powered speakers, you know, relatively inexpensive powered speakers, that’s great, but you know, so mix like that, and then go and listen on earbuds, and on headphones, and in your car, or on your stereo, your parents stereo, and just kind of find that middle ground where you start to learn, you know, maybe the bass is too loud on this and too loud on that, but being too loud in different environments, or being too brittle in different environments means maybe your speakers aren’t picking up those kind of frequencies.


Like, if I was going to only mix on NS10s without a sub, it would be almost impossible to get 60Hz on the kick to sound great, because they don’t reproduce 60Hz that well, but if I go to my car, where maybe I have a nice subwoofer built into it, the kick may be either not present, or blowing up the car, so that is a way to work.

So these little mini Genelecs are called the 610s. They’re still relatively expensive. I like these because they — you know, I like staying within the brand for the moment, but this kind of speaker here is exactly what we’re talking about. I put a pair of these either side of my laptop, and I can work anywhere, and to me, it’s like this is probably the first step up from a pair of headphones. You know, if you can mix and record — when I’m traveling, if I’m in a hotel room, I can have a pair of headphones, and then I can move onto this. You know, not monitor too loud and annoy all the neighbors, but this is like the next step up for me, and it’s relatively mobile.

It just takes an RCA input, they’re powered, they have — they’re all ready to go, so it just goes into an RCA input on here, plug it into the wall and I’ve got some speakers.

Now, there are all kinds of manufacturers that make speakers like this. You know, we talked about Mackie, and Alesis that make powered speakers, there’s JBL makes small ones, there’s so many different manufacturers, and again, you can go to your local Guitar Center or Sam Ash, and they will have a massive variety of speakers, and just find something in your price point. You know, a powered speaker that works for you as you step up from headphones.

I would say you can start on your headphones. The reason why I don’t exclusively mix on headphones, as good as they can be, is it’s fatiguing. It’s fatiguing to wear headphones the whole time and just have music blasting into your ears.

I personally like to mix on speakers, and then reference on headphones. That’s what works for me.

So I have a multitude of different headphones that I monitor on. These are Ultrasones, and I like these Ultrasones — these are an older model, they’re a 650, they make newer models. I don’t think they make this anymore, but what I like about these Ultrasones is this.

They actually don’t send the sound out directly into your ear drum. It comes out through the edges. They’re kind of old and battered, I’ve had them for several years, but I like about them is that they hit the pinay of the ear, and they don’t go straight into the middle of your ear.

So they’re relatively bright, and they’re great for detailed work. I will always reference a mix after I’ve finished a mix, I will put these on and listen to it on my laptop, and they’re bright, but they’re not fatiguing, and at the end of the day, if I’ve been mixing a long time, I still hear all the detail on these, so I like these.

I will also reference on good old fashioned ear buds. I don’t have to go to these all the time, but if I’m stuck and I’m not really sure exactly where I’m at, just plug in some ear buds. I mean, these are the ones that come free with your iPhone, and I don’t want to guess how many people, but I would say a lot of people just listen to music like this. They also listen on their laptops.

But this is a good quickly plug it in and see how it sounds in the real world kind of test. You know, if you’re working out, you’ve got a pair of earbuds on and you’re on the treadmill, so it’s good to know how it sounds.

Last, but no means least, I love these headphones. These are — they’re called Extreme Isolation headphones. I use these all the time. The reason I like Extreme Isolation headphones is they do exactly that. I used to use drummer headphones a lot, because, you know, when I was recording vocals, the headphones would bleed into the vocal all the time, and so I bought the drummer headphones, which are great, they have really good isolation, however, none of the drummer headphones that I could buy actually sounded very good. They were loud and mid-rangey, which was really good for playing drums. If you’re playing drums, you want to have that click just be like an ice pick going through your ear so you can play to it.

It was like having a pair of NS10s strapped to my head. Pure mid-range. However, what I like about these Extreme Isolation headphones is that they sound good. They offer good isolation from a mic, so when you’re cutting vocals, or acoustic guitars, or percussion, something that has a mic very close to the sound source, I don’t get the bleed, but they also sound good and they’re not fatiguing, I can listen to these for hours as well.

So, you know, for reference for me, it’s a combination of many things. I have the unpowered speakers, which are NS10s driver by a power amp. I have powered speakers, which are the big Genelecs, the 1032s. Then I have headphones, which are the Ultrasones, and then I will reference in my car, and I’ll also reference on earbuds, and of course, I’ll go to those Extreme Isolation. I use them primarily for recording, but I also like to just have a quick listen on those as well.

For me, it’s like, if I stay in a world of speakers that I know a lot, I can get a good balance between everything, but it’s important that I’m listening on all of these different devices, but I will say after doing it for several years in one environment, I don’t go to the reference environments as much as I used to, because the other reference environments, if you’re always checking on different things, your ear will start to get trained. You’ll start to understand what to boost and cut a little bit more in your EQ so that when you do go to reference in your car, you’ll be like, “Oh yeah, it’s good.” You’ll apply the knowledge.

So I think as you’re up and coming and you’re learning your room, it’s good to go to lots of different reference sources, and the more you do that, the less likely you are to have to continually reference, but it’s a good process, and as I’ve said before in other videos, and I will continue to say, the great thing about having an external mastering guy, if you can, is they give you that last set of ears, because all they’re in, they’re in a very neutral sounding room, and they’re listening to everybody’s different mixes, and they will learn that room, because it’s so flat, they can hear in that room, and they will listen to everybody’s mixes, and they will know what to boost and cut, because they’re in that neutral kind of environment.

Anyway, I hope that helps. Please leave me some questions, or probably, just as importantly, leave your comments about what speakers you use, because it’s — it’s a great discussion, because this for me is like a great forum where we can talk about all of the different speakers that we use, and the different price points, because it’s not always about spending a lot of money, it’s about having speakers that you know, so if there’s any gems out there that you know of, some inexpensive powered monitors that could help us all out, please let us know, I really love that stuff, and I appreciate all of your time, and please subscribe and go to Produce Like a Pro and sign up for the email list! Thank you ever so much for watching!


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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